Liverpool got their preseason for 2014-15 underway with a defeat in Denmark against Brondby IF on Wednesday evening, losing 2-1 after an injury-time goal for the home side.
With many of the senior stars still absent, it was a mixture of youngsters and returned loan players who made up the Reds' side in Scandinavia, with Kris Peterson the goalscorer between the two goals for Brondby.
Throughout Liverpool's preseason campaign we'll be following the preparations for the new Premier League season and mapping out the tactics that manager Brendan Rodgers opts to utilise in the friendlies. We'll also be focusing on two players each time who either have something to prove over summer or have recently joined the club—starting with Suso and Jordon Ibe.
Rodgers switched over the second half of last season between a diamond midfield and a 4-3-3; against Brondby it was very much the latter. Partly this was no doubt down to attacking options; Fabio Borini was the only recognised striker available, playing the first half and then being replaced by Kris Peterson—who usually features from either wing—at the break.
Lucas Leiva played the holding role at the base of midfield in the first half, with 10 half-time changes meaning Conor Coady occupied the position after the break.
Impressive performers came in the shape of central defender Lloyd Jones, one misplaced pass aside, and the willing running and creativity of senior midfielder Philippe Coutinho in the opening 45 minutes of the game.
New signing Kevin Stewart appeared for 15 minutes at the end of the first half, coming on at right-back after an injury to Tiago Ilori, in a move which switched Martin Kelly from full-back into the centre of defence. Most other Reds players played in their usual roles, with Brad Smith seeing game time at left-back, Jordan Rossiter in the centre of midfield and Danny Ward getting a late run in goal.
Rodgers himself was content to watch on from his seat for most of the match, letting his players express themselves on the ball, take their defensive shape out of position and regain some semblance of match fitness.
Our first player focus is on playmaker Suso, returning from a year-long loan spell in Spain with Almeria and, as per his recent comments with the club's official website, eager to make an impact this season at his parent club.
After the season in Spain, I think I have become a better player—I learned a lot...we have to have a good squad because there are a lot of competitions.
But if I fight for my place, I do my best every day in training and when I have the chance to come on or start a game, if I do well, I could have chances to play a lot of minutes in the first team. [Brendan Rodgers] talked to me, said he was happy with what I was doing and said that this season he wants me to stay here. I want to stay here and sign a new deal.
Fighting talk, and Suso is right that Liverpool will have a good squad to cover extra games this year, which means he needs to impress while he has the chance.
Adam Lallana and Lazar Markovic will be rivals for wide attacking slots on the team, having signed this summer, while Raheem Sterling, Coutinho and fellow youngster Jordon Ibe will also be thinking they will play similar roles.
As such, the Spaniard not only needs to show he can impact in the final third, but also contribute to the shape of the team, the defensive work and the fast transition play: simple, one-touch passing and movement which allowed Liverpool to annihilate teams last year.
At times Suso did this against the Danish side; he linked well with the right-sided central player—Rossiter's runs at times came from deep, helping to break the lines of Brondby's midfield—and looked to feed passes into Borini, moving central.
He was also effective once or twice in dribbling infield past defenders to create shooting opportunities, but other moments saw him run headlong into heavy traffic.
More of a concern would have been the gap down the right flank between defence and midfield at times as Suso was slow getting back to help Kelly defensively, while he also made a terribly poor clearance which ended as an assist for the first Brondby goal.
Plenty to work on over the coming weeks for Suso, then, though not too much should be read into a mere 45 minute workout of course.
In the second half, Ibe came on to play from the left of Liverpool's attack.
He immediately had a big impact on the game, setting up the equalising goal with a rapid, mazy run down the left flank, producing a cut-back which set up Peterson to tap home.
In many ways Ibe's display mirrored that of his performance against Shamrock Rovers at the end of last season: quick to get on the ball and run at defences, good at creating openings through utilising space, but lacking in his own end product when shooting.
Once he dribbled infield to create a clear scoring chance but scuffed a shot—then later he could have won the game in the 80th minute as he raced through, one on one, but failed to open his body properly and hit a poor effort straight at the keeper.
It's the type of chance he has been working on finishing off with greater composure and accuracy, and one he'll need to take to force his way into Rodgers' clinical, goalscoring side.
Other than the finishing, he was Liverpool's brightest attacking threat in the game, using his great pace to beat defenders and spin away in midfield areas.
Jordon Ibe showed again how much talent he's got. If he keeps progressing, we have another Sterling on our hands. Pace and football brains.— Joseph Musker (@Musker_LFC) July 16, 2014
One point to note was his complete dependence, once more, on his right foot. Control, dribbling, passing and shooting all goes from that side, even when he has to come across his body to receive it rather than taking a quicker touch with the left. Working on his finishing is clearly important, but it will benefit Ibe no end if he also works on using both feet far more.